Colton’s Corner: Week 9 With Taylor Howden
Colton’s Corner will be a weekly feature on five topics from around MLR.
Houston SaberCats Defeat Utah Warriors 29-27
Just as I wrote when the Houston SaberCats knocked off Austin Elite Rugby in Week 1, Houston always has a chance when Sam Windsor is dialed in like he was on Thursday evening. Unlike last week, the SaberCats jumped out to an early lead and held on throughout the match, jumping their opponents in the league table as a result. With over half their season remaining and some momentum behind them, a few points here and there could make a few teams towards the top of the table a little nervous.
NOLA Gold Steal A Win from Austin Elite Rugby
It has been hard to watch Austin Elite Rugby at times this season, but these last few weeks have not been those times. We are still waiting to see Austin play a complete game, but they are getting closer and closer as every week. Saturday afternoon’s match was a perfect example. They had the first-place NOLA Gold backed into a corner and let them off the hook when Michael Baska slipped through the defense for a last minute try. I think that Austin is going to pick up a few wins before the season is over. NOLA on the other hand showed everyone why they sit atop the league table. Good teams find a way to win games, and that’s exactly what NOLA did on Saturday.
RUNY’s Wire-to-Wire Win Over Glendale
Rugby United New York sent a clear message to the rest of the MLR with their wire-to-wire 31-19 victory over the Glendale Raptors. As an expansion team, I feel like you are granted a little leeway when it comes to success. RUNY doesn’t need it. Their one loss came to the defending MLR Champion Seattle Seawolves at Starfire Stadium, a place that hardly anyone besides the Seawolves themselves win. Their forwards bullied Glendale on Sunday afternoon and they’ve got game breakers in their back line. That’s a large part of the reason that they are in second place through seven matches. If they continue to get healthy, they will be a problem come playoff time.
Lay of the Land
As we near the halfway point of the season, I wanted to take a second to acknowledge the league tables. For awhile the league was clearly divided into two tiers in the standings. Austin, Houston and Utah rounded out the bottom while San Diego, Toronto, Glendale, Seattle, New York and NOLA made up the upper tier. While it’s still not as close as SaberCats’, Warriors’ and Elite fans may like, strong performances from those sides helped close the gap a little bit. I’m also enjoying watching teams like New Orleans and RUNY handle their business on a weekly basis while the Raptors and the Seawolves do their part to climb the tables while also holding off the hard-charging Legion and the Arrows. It’s a nice picture of the competition that the MLR breeds.
A Conversation With NOLA Gold’s Taylor Howden
In my opinion, Taylor Howden of the NOLA Gold has one of the more unique point-of-views on how rugby has evolved in North America because he has been right in the middle of all the growth.
“Oh a few,” Howden said when I asked him how many clubs he’s played for since he arrived in the States. “Some people call it some type of journeyman.”
Howden arrived in Houston, Texas by way of New Zealand in June 2006 with his family. After about a year in Hoston he spent some time in Aspen, Colorado before moving down to Denver to play for the Glendale Raptors and Denver Barbarians of the Super League.
“I played one season with Glendale. After that season, the Barbos were in Super League. I just wanted to go play some Super League, which at that point, was the highest level of rugby in America.”
Sandwiched in between his seven years in Denver was a summer in Belmont Shore playing sevens. After his time in Colorado, Howden moved up to Ohio for three years and spent some time with the Columbus Rugby Club and the Ohio Aviators of the defunct Professional Rugby Organization. After PRO Rugby folded, Howden moved down to New Orleans in January of 2018 and has been one of the players that the Gold have counted on to help get their club and the MLR as a whole off the ground.
When I think about the people who have taught me to love rugby, Howden is one of the three or four people that come to my mind. Howden took my high school sevens team to compete in Las Vegas in 2011 and has always given me the time of day when I’ve seen him around since then. His love for the sport rubbed off on me and I honestly think that the reason we are blessed with professional rugby in North America is because of people like him.
Having played some of the highest level of men’s club rugby in the United States and in both professional of the most recent professional competitions, I honestly think there is no better person to explain how much the landscape of rugby has changed in North America over the last few years. I had the opportunity to talk with Howden on the phone for a few minutes about how much rugby has changed, what he thinks the future of rugby in North America looks like and what it it’s like to be a member of the first-place NOLA Gold.
What’s the biggest difference between rugby in America when you first became involved as compared to know?
“I’d say the younger players now that are coming through are more skilled and have a more knowledge and I.Q. of the game. I’m not sure if that’s a result of a larger player-base throughout the high school level if that’s growing or if it that’s through the success of the sevens game or even maybe some success in the level of coaching. I’m not too sure what it is. You can definitely see the level of younger players that are coming through. Especially at the MLR level where you get a lot of players that are just coming out of college, their level of rugby and their level of I.Q. is pretty high. That’s probably a pretty big indicator of the evolution of players are more players are playing.”
What do you see in the future?
“I think the MLR is obviously an amazing step in the right direction for growing the game and making the public aware of it. There is a lot of groups around that are doing a lot of work with the youth. A lot of organizations like Atavus that are working with youths and I think that’s where it’s at. You’ve got to get more parents knowing about it, more parent coaching it at a young level. In order for America to become massive, it starts at the bottom.”
What has it been like to be in New Orleans as the Gold establishes it’s foundation?
“This might sound kind of small and, I don’t know, maybe a little silly to some, but our clubhouse is located on a pretty busy intersection on the Westbank which is where we play. For a long, long time it was just a big yellow building that was next to a Shell station that looked like people weren’t even hanging out in it. Now we’ve painted it, we’ve got a big, massive billboard on the front, we’ve got our crest on the building itself, we’ve got our phone number and our website and out season ticket prices up there. There is literally cars at that red light all day, every day. There is never not traffic there. I think that’s something massive that was an easy fix, but something huge that’s helped us grow our fan base. We’ve picked up a lot of guys that are in our academy that were playing locally with our club side and training in an academy environment. They also are working with internships and on part-time with the NOLA Gold helping to sell tickets and getting the awareness out there. The fan base is growing and if we continue to win and continue playing the way that we are playing I assume it will just grow even more.”
Are you at all surprised by how hot your team has started the season?
“I’d say it’s not that surprising. I think with the amount of work that we put in throughout the preseason and the amount of work that the back room staff have put in throughout the offseason, you kind of marry those two together and the culture that we are breeding, if you throw it all in a pot it’s just going to come out good. I’m not really too surprised. We’ve got some unreal players. Tristan Blewitt, he’s the MVP of the league. If you had to pick the best player, you’d pick Tristan Blewitt. Even outside of him we’ve got guys that aren’t even making team rosters that should be. We‘ve got so much depth and so much talent and guys that work hard for each other that some guys aren’t making it. I’d say we are right where we should be at this point.”
How much has the experience of being in the MLR last season played into your team’s success this season?
“We’ve got a good core group that have come back. They kind of knew what was going on and how everything worked. Then you couple that with the guys that have come in from professional environments that understand what it takes and what needs to happen. I think that’s just a good mix. Then you’ve got a mixture of younger, maybe a bit more inexperienced guys that are coming through, those older blokes and those guys that have been there before help those fellas out. We’re really tight here. Everyone likes each other. You can see that we talk about getting around everyone when we score tries. You can see in the games when scoring scores a try or when the forwards win a scrum penalty, everyone gets pats on the back. Even one of the commentators said it one time. He said, “Just look at the way the NOLA boys get around each other.’ So that adds to the dynamic of the group as well when something good happens and all the boys come give you a pat on the back. It really gives you a bit of confidence and a wee boost.”
What did you think about this week’s action? What did I miss? I would love to hear from any and all MLR fans as the season moves along. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any MLR related topic that might be on your mind. I’ll address any emails in the next week’s Colton’s Corner.
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